Camp at USD allows youth to dedicate themselves to music

The campus of the University of South Dakota was abuzz with approximately 175 young musicians last week.

Cellists perform at the grand finale concert of the 61st annual Upper Midwest Summer Music Camp Friday, July 13, in Aalfs Auditorium. (Photo by Travis Gulbrandson)

That's because it was the site of the 61st annual Upper Midwest Summer Music Camp.

From Sunday to Friday students who had just completed fifth grade through those who had just completed their senior year of high school had a chance to devote themselves to a common interest.

"It's basically a week of dedicating their lives to nothing but music – learning about music and making music, and everything involved with that," said camp director Dr. Jonathan Alvis last week.

Throughout the week, they have an opportunity to get involved in major ensembles, smaller ensembles, concert band, concert choir, jazz band, show choir and other activities.

"Every kid (likes) something different," Alvis said. "That's one of the nice parts about camp, is that it's not just one type of kid – we have kids from every different background, every type of band, and really I think in the end their favorite parts are getting to make music and getting to meet new friends. …

"During camp, I want them to have just absolutely fabulous musical experiences," he said.

In addition to the ensembles, students had the opportunity to participate in a variety of classes and workshops.

Each night of camp was highlighted by a different event. The first night featured performances by USD faculty members, while another night had an honors recital and still another hosted a talent show.

"They get to hear professional musicians, and they get to hear their peers perform," said Alvis, who serves as USD's director of athletic bands and associate professor of low brass.

The students also performed in two big final concerts in Aalfs Auditorium Thursday and Friday that showed what they learned throughout the week.

A majority of the campers came from South Dakota, but in-state residence was not a requirement for attendance. Other students hailed from Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and Wyoming.

Some came even farther, Alvis said.

"We actually have a student from Polynesia this year," he said. "It's very interesting for us, because she only speaks Mandarin. It's been experience for her, it's been an experience for us, but everybody's having a good time with."

Some campers have such a good time that they come back over multiple years.

"This year we have right around 100 returns," Alvis said. "Last year we had a huge number of students who had just graduated high school, and that was the bulk of our camp.

"This year is actually the opposite – we have a lot of very young kids. It's always very interesting year to year to see how the demographics of the camp change," he said.

Alvis added that planning for next year's camp already had begun before this year's had finished.

"It's a year-long process," he said. "The bulk of the work is done beginning at the end of May, when applications really, truly start to roll in. The brochures are sent out (to schools) in the end of January and the beginning of February, and really, we get applications coming in as soon as they go out.

"After this camp is done, next year's camp starts," he said.

He said he hopes to give each of the students as memorable an experience as possible.

"The kids already have a love of music, obviously, or they wouldn't be here," Alvis said. "But I would love for them to want to go home and spread that love, share that with their friends and family, get their friends who are kind of on the fence about whether they really want to stay in choir or band … interested in staying involved.

"Music is a huge part of everyone's life, and the more that they can be involved, the more they can create. That's a fantastic thing," he said.

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